Death as life’s companion

We’ve just had our annual local death festival Pushing Up Daisies. A festival intended to encourage us to have more conversations about death, dying, bereavement, loss and grief and build a local community where we support each other as citizens and rely less on different professions to deal with death and dying for us.

I love that I live in place that has a festival like this.

When I was a toddler – probably 3 or 4 years old – I had an intense dream that has stayed with me and from which I have drawn different meanings at different times in my life.

I am walking in a small town with my mum. It is dusk, nearly dark and there is no one else around. I begin to hear the deep sounding beat of a drum. It is far away. Distant. A monotonous slow and steady beat that I can feel in my bones. And I feel scared. Something is coming. The beat comes closer too quickly and suddenly it’s upon us. A procession of skeletons – only I don’t know what they are, I’ve never seen skeletons. Walking dead, searching the streets, searching for us. And I know instinctively that we have to get away. So I get my mum to run with me, through the streets, along a railway track, away from the sound of the drums. But I can feel them chasing us now. Without rushing they are following us as if they know we have no where to go, no where to hide. My mum and I run to a mountain and we find some secret caves near the top. We can see the skeletons approaching. Slowly. Gracefully. We withdraw deeper into the mountain. And as my mum holds me I can hear the sound of the drumming surrounding the mountain and there is nothing but the beat.

I still remember waking up terrified. Not for myself but scared that the skeletons were coming for my mum. I remember struggling to explain what I had dreamt. How significant it felt. And I remember how the dream stayed with me as a young child. Vivid and important.

When I was 7 my mum and I went cycling around Denmark for a week or 10 days. It was an amazing experience. We slept in a tent together and we visited all kinds of places. On a bright hot day we went to a monestry. A beautiful old place that had partly been turned into a museum. In the graveyard they had opened some of the graves and covered them with glass so you could look down into them. I wasn’t tall enough to look over the edge so my mum asked me if I wanted to see. I didn’t quite understand what it was that was in the graves but I was curious. She lifted me up and I was looking down at a skeleton.

I completely freaked, twisted myself out of my mum’s grip and ran off out of the monestry and out to the road. In a brief moment I had felt the skeleton looking at me and all my terror from the dream returned. We were in danger. I remember marching along the side of the road in the sun and the dust. Furious. How could my mum take me to a place with skeletons? Didn’t she know how much they terrified me? Did she not know about my dream? Did she not know me inside out – all my thoughts and feelings?

I don’t know if I managed to explain to my mum what had happened. But I remember the painful realisation that my mum and I were separate beings. That she didn’t know my thoughts and feelings and that there were things about me that she wasn’t aware of. A different kind of loneliness entered my life.

A couple of years later death became my companion. I started considering taking my own life. At first I didn’t quite understand why and I quickly became full of shame and guilt. So much self-judgement for this longing I felt deep inside me. Longing to die. I can look back and totally understand why this young me would feel like dying but back then I just thought there was something wrong with me, that I was selfish and weak for thinking about taking my own life.

During Pushing Up Daisies I did a workshop named ‘How can I live when I feel like dying?’. I did a 30 minute talk where I reflected on things that helped me stay alive during the years where my death-longing was with me most of the time.

My teenage years and early 20’ies were spent just surviving myself. Everything I did was aimed at keeping me alive. Trying to focus on things that brought meaning to me in the here and now. Which was mainly creative activities and self-expression like dance, singing and painting. Around 22 I reached a point where I’d had enough. I kept thinking ‘what kind of life is this, constantly focusing on surviving myself and waiting for things to change?’ I didn’t feel alive and I didn’t want to live if I couldn’t find a way to get beyond surviving. So I tried the one thing I hadn’t tried already; I asked for help.

I quickly found out that telling people I thought of taking my own life wasn’t the way to get help. Not for me anyway. When I went to mental health services asking for help with my suicidal thoughts and feelings they just didn’t take me very seriously. I didn’t come across as someone who needed help urgently. However when I mentioned that I had experiences of hearing voices things started happening. Some useful stuff and some less useful stuff and I went on a journey of learning to navigate services wisely and safely.

I still have a relationship with death. It’s an important relationship. Thinking about death and dying has probably been one of the things that I’ve found most useful. Just diving in there and allowing myself to consider death, really feel my longing to die and ask myself questions. Why do I want to die? What do I hope will happen? What will I do if it doesn’t? What can I do once I am dead? What will happen to my mum if I take my own life? What will other people do and think and feel if I take my own life? Do I want to be missed or forgotten? Do I want people to feel guilty for not taking more care with me while I was alive? Do I want to punish the world by leaving it? Do I want to punish myself? What is a good reason for dying? What if I die and then return to live this life again? What will dying feel like? What will it be like to drown or hang or jump off a bridge? What will it be like to take an empty syringe and inject air into my veins? What will I feel? What will I think? What if I regret when there is no way back? What if dying doesn’t bring me peace?

And thinking deeply about death has changed how I relate to life. It has made me focus on meaning above anything else. I do not want to waste my time chasing achievements or goals that do not bring me meaning in the here and now. I prioritise looking after myself because I know that it is the only way I can be of use to my friends and contribute to the communities I am part of. Relationships are the single most important thing to me but I can’t be present in my contact with others if I am overwhelmed and anxious.

Another thing about death that I really value is the certainty of it.

Everything in life feels unpredictable to me and I experience a lot of unsafety and overwhelm. I myself am very unpredictable. My mood is incredibly changeable and my energy levels fluctuate so much that I can make a plan for the next couple of hours only to find that an hour later I am so exhausted I have to do things differently. I never know when I might have brain fog or a migraine and be unable to do much but sit around and wait for things to get better.

But death – death is so wonderfully certain. It’s the only thing I know for sure will happen.

And when I feel powerless, knowing that it is ultimately my choice whether I live or die gives me the sense of power and control that I need. Firmly believing that I am in my right to take my own life if circumstances become unbearable, has given me the strength to keep going. So in some weird roundabout ways – even though I don’t wish it on anyone else to feel like I have felt at times – allowing myself to feel suicidal and get close to death has helped keep me alive.

Along with endlessly repeating clichés to myself such as:

If you’re going through hell keep going.

This too shall pass.

If you fall and have to crawl make it part of your choreography.

You know what you have but you don’t know what you’re gonna get.

I still live through phases of feeling like dying. While I am in a committed relationship I have decided to step away from the option of taking my own life. I had a long conversation with death about it and death accepted that we have a less intense relationship. But I am also acutely aware that I don’t know what life will throw at me and at anytime everything can change.

When I die one day it may or may not be by my own hand. I am okay with that. I don’t judge myself for feeling like dying anymore. I am not scared of dying – I rather look forward to it and that feels liberating. You live life differently when you are not trying to outrun the skeletons and the grim reaper.

In the Pushing Up Daisies week you can volunteer to be a Daisy. You can be someone who wears a Daisy badge which means you can be approached and are up for talking about stuff related to death and dying. My mum’s name is Daisy but she doesn’t like her name much. I however like that I can be a Daisy – it feels like coming full circle. Being in a town where daisying is a thing you do.

I vow to daisy for the rest of my life because I believe we need to talk about death – as well as pain, illness, vulnerability, fear and all sorts of other uncomfortable things which are usually linked to death and dying in one way or another. Death shapes our lives whether we admit it or not.

Life would not be life without death so why not face it, feel it, think about it and celebrate it?

A tsunami of acknowledgement to everyone who made Pushing Up Daisies happen for the fourth time.

Image

Pushing up Daisies festival 2018

Our local death festival is fast approaching. For a week there will be all kinds of events exploring all kinds of aspects of death and dying. There will be workshops, talks, films, creative stuff and performances.

All events are free but donations are welcome. The money goes towards necessities like printing programs, tea and coffee and biscuits. Some events you have to book because there are limited places.

Everybody is volunteering their time and energy. At the heart of the festival is the the hope that together we can build more compassion communities.

 

 

The full programme can be found on Pushing up Daisies website

There will be some events looking at suicide

I will be talking about my personal experiences of trying to find ways to live while longing to die. And I am hoping there might be interest in setting up a local peer support group for people who live with suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Peer support for people who think about and long to die is still a hot potato – too much risk assessment involved and a suspicious stance towards those of us who feel like dying… ‘wouldnt a support group just encourage them?…’ But it’s slowly changing with the public realisation that it’s not just a few people who feel so overwhelmed by life that they want to die but actually so common that it must approaching the threshold of being considered ‘normal’. And services and organisation don’t have the resources to offer support to that many people so we to need to start thinking about how we create support in our communities.
I am inspired by my experiences of the support that can happen in hearing voices groups and also by the Alternatives to suicide group in Western Massachusetts that I have been lucky enough to visit.

IMG_20180420_091235_510

And there will be loads of other exciting and amazing stuff – like these ones.

 

 

To get a better feel of what the festival is like you can revisit the 2017 festival in the video below.

https://youtu.be/r1jF4EmguaY

 

Healthy Minds Newsletter

I have been volunteering with Healthy Minds in Calderdale since I moved to UK and have found it a good way to be involved with the local communities. I feel excited about the new developments and thought I would share the latest newsletter.

2016-10-11-12-healthy-minds-newsletter-029-october-november-december-2016

After the floods

Thinking of ways to support the local area find its way back to some sort of normal…

The devastation is difficult to comprehend and people are still working hard to clean up. Rebuilding homes, businesses, schools and other community venues will take a long time. We all try and cope with the state of things in our own ways and there will be a continued need for support both practically and emotionally.

One way to support people in the beautiful valleys of Calderdale is to donate here Calderdale Flood Relief Appeal

————————————————–

I love films and I love cinemas. My first memories of going to the cinema is from the wonderfully charming Øst for Paradis in Aarhus. I remember watching La Gloire de mon père there in the early early 90’ies and later many more arty and independent films from all over the world.
In my early teens I lived in Hornslet and the local cinema Kom-bi became my sancturary. There were films I would go watch again and again – such as La cité des enfants perdus – and this was also where I saw the Star Wars triology for the first times.

Even though I have some beautiful memories of watching films with friends, my mother and boyfriends, the cinema is a place I love to go on my own. Whatever my mood is, sitting in the dark and allowing myself to be absorbed into the stories, the action and the emotions on screen, is magical (unless its a really terrible film – but luckily I have not had too many of those experiences).
I can enjoy all sorts of genres but if I am feeling overwhelmed my prefered remedy is to go and watch either some macho action packed film or a thriller. Somehow that will give me a break from reality but also give me emotional release.

Now I live in Calderdale and what excitement I felt the first time I went to Hebden Bridge Picture House! The building is amazing and the interior made me feel at home, bringing back memories of Øst for Paradis. But during the floods on Boxing Day the Picture House was damaged…

Update on December 30th from Hebden Bridge Picture House

“Today, the Picture House and Town Council staff cleaned the foyer and kiosk, the Friends of the Picture House committee cleaned the balcony and a whole load of volunteers of all varieties, with power tools and strength and at very short notice, came and unbolted the sodden seats – removing all 257 from the stalls.
We are now in a position to open our doors, and would like to invite you all to our not-so-grand reopening on New Year’s Day, launching the January programme as planned!

During this period only the unaffected original balcony seating will be available, meaning capacity is reduced to 230. This also means access is limited for those unable to use the stairs – thank you for your patience during this time if you are unable to attend for this reason.

Heating will be limited (unless we can get hold of some giant plug-in heaters…), so feel free to bring along a cushion, a blanket and your good spirit – the show will go on!

Thank you for your support, generosity and hard work – we’ve been overwhelmed with your response. We look forward to seeing you all very soon!

Hebden Bridge Picture House Team”

Dear Friends of the Picture House and all volunteers, helpers and workers – thank you for bringing such an important part of the community back so quickly.

So now I am in the wonderful position of being able to combine my love for films and my desire to support the local area to bounce back after the flooding. On New Years day a group of us went to see the powerful film Sufragette. It was an atmospheric and slightly surreal experience. People in their coats and with blankets almost filling up the seats on the balcony and below us the bare floors and walls showing markings where the water had been. There is no real escape from what has happened but it was good to sit there and get a couple of hours relief and sense the spirit of this strong community.
And today I hope to go see Black Mass. Bringing again my blankets and hopefully I will remember my mug for a cup of tea to help keep my hands warm.

local